Monday, June 27, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: I

In the next few posts I want to explore the reflection of Genesis – Deuteronomy in the Gospel of John; with a particular emphasis on the Creation account, Moses, and the Tabernacle. I’m going to do this beginning with the passage we have been in lately, John Chapter 5.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believe Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? John 5:39; 45 – 47.

When I was young in the Lord Deuteronomy 18:15 was the verse used to illustrate Moses writing about Christ/Messiah. The LORD you God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.

While I believe that Moses was writing about Messiah in this passage (see John 1:45 for an example of a possible reference to Deut. 18:15), I also think that the virtual sole use of this verse, or the primary use of this verse, to serve as a background for passages such as John 5 is unfortunate because it creates tunnel vision; that is, it becomes the only verse we virtually see in the Law as referring to Jesus Christ. While this may not be true for folks in academia, it is true, I think, in popular Christian perception. Next to Deut. 18:15 in popular perception is likely the system of sacrifices which are generally held to point forward to Messiah; but I’m not sure that popular perception goes much beyond the foregoing.

When we approach the Scriptures piecemeal, slicing and dicing and compartmentalizing, we miss the tapestry; and in missing the tapestry of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the Old Testament) we miss the backdrop and motif of the New Testament. People read and try to interpret Revelation who cannot see Exodus, Ezekiel, Isaiah and numerous other Old Testament motifs, thereby missing the tone, texture, and context of the Apocalypse. The same can be said for the body of the entire New Testament; the same can be said for the Gospel of John.

Consider Luke 24:44-45, Now He [Jesus] said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

There is a similar description of Jesus speaking with the two people on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27, Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

A data-driven and proof-texting approach is especially prone to occur, I think, in our Western society which has pretty much lost any semblance of sustained attention span; it takes sustained attention to get the story, to see the patterns, to recognize the point-counterpoint.

In our John 5 passage Jesus is saying that the Scriptures testify about Him, that Moses wrote about Him. Most of Jesus’ listeners did not understand that Moses wrote about Jesus; perhaps they saw individual trees but they did not see the forest; and the trees they saw they saw in isolation and seeing them in isolation they made idols of them. The serpent in the Wilderness was not the only idol that was made (John 3:14; Numbers 21:6; 2 Kings 18:4); the Sabbath was also made an idol. If we fail to see that the New Testament, indeed, that the entire Scripture, is about Jesus…what idols shall we make? What idols have we made? Idols fashioned from trees found in the forest of Scripture.

Friday, June 24, 2011

John 5:17ff: X

In the Verily, verily [Amen, amen; Truly, truly] passage of John Chapter 5 Jesus proclaims His Divinity; He is God. Yet, do Christians view Him as God? Do they worship Him as God?

In 1937 Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a play titled, The Zeal of Thy House. In a letter of October 4, 1937 to Father Herbert Kelly, in which she discusses aspects of the play, she writes:

But it was interesting to discover, as I did, how many people (whether nominal Christians or not) either were Arians, or believed that the Church taught a purely Arian doctrine. [Arius was a 3rd – 4th Century priest who taught that Christ was not consubstantial with God; that is, Christ was not God the Son though He was the Son of God] However often they had heard or recited the Creeds, it had obviously never sunk into their minds that Christ was supposed to be God in any real sense of the word. The Good and Suffering Man was a familiar idea to them; but the idea of a Suffering God was a staggering novelty. This isn’t exaggeration – some of them quite simply and innocently told me so – especially some of my own actors, who, having seen the play through two months of rehearsal and ten performances had plenty of time in which to chew over it. I explained as much as I could…that Christ was… equally God and Man.

I wonder if perhaps we should not speak these words of the Athanasian and Nicene creeds to one another?

The Athanasian Creed:
For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

The Nicene Creed:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

John 5:17ff: IX

Continuing with the third of Jesus’ Truly, truly (Amen, amen) sayings of John Chapter 5:

Truly, truly, I say to you,

an hour is coming

and now is,

     when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,

                         and those who hear will live.

     For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so

 He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and

He gave Him authority to execute judgment,

               because He is the Son of Man.

    Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which

                 all who are in the tombs will hear His voice,

                                                       and will come forth;

             those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life,

             those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

Jesus is not teaching that the resurrection of life is obtained by the things we do; the context of the Gospel makes this clear, for it is whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life, and This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent. Calvin writes, “He marks out believers by their good works, just as elsewhere He says that a tree is known by its fruit…For Christ is not here treating of the cause of salvation, but only distinguishing the elect from the reprobate by their own work”.

Jesus’ reference to Himself as “the Son of Man” and “Son of Man” communicates, I think, a redemptive panorama. It is often viewed as an eschatological reference to Daniel 7:13-14. In this passage Daniel sees “one like a Son of Man” being given an everlasting dominion, glory and a kingdom. However, while Daniel Chapter 7 is certainly encompassed in the self-designation Son of Man, so is Psalm 8; “What is man, that you remember him? Or the son of man that you are concerned about him? You have made him a little lower than the angles; you have crowned him with glory and honor…you have put all things under his feet.

The writer of the NT book of Hebrews has this comment on Psalm 8:

But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angles, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone, Hebrews 2:8-9.

Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 are the backdrop to Daniel 7. in much the same way that verses 3 – 4 are the backdrop to verses 25 – 28 in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15. The Incarnation and Crucifixion precede the Resurrection and receiving of an everlasting Kingdom.

To be sure, as we see in John Chapter 5, the Son of Man in His incarnation has instituted the eschaton/last days, for judgment is both present and future just as eternal life is present and future; so there is an already-not yet element to the ministry of the Son of Man. It is a panorama that stretches back to Genesis and reaches forward through Psalm 8, John 5, and into Revelation 21 and 22. And since this panorama encompasses humanity, the term Son of Man also speaks to us of Jesus Christ’s identification with humanity – God has become man, fully man while remaining fully God (see Hebrews Chapter 2 for more on His identification with us).

As Paul in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 teaches us, Jesus Christ was the Last Adam and He is the Second Man; in Jesus Christ we have a new humanity, a new creation, and those who hear His word and believe in Him pass from Adam into Christ (see Romans 5). In the designation Son of Man, Jesus is not only identifying Himself with us; He is also assuring us of the certainty of our redemption; a redemption promised in Genesis 3:15, pondered in Psalm 8, revealed in Daniel 7, made certain on the Cross, and fully realized in Revelation 21 and 22.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dorothy L. Sayers – Her Birthday and My Musings: III

In reading Hitchman’s book on Sayers (see first post in this series) I pondered the contractions of people and our approach to those contradictions. I particularly pondered the way we approach contradictions in those we admire. Contradictions in those we admire tend to be excused or played-down; contradictions in those we don’t admire tend to be magnified without mitigation. Sometimes the contradictions are without excuse and unfathomable, sometimes they are plain sin, sometimes they are patently irresponsible; when they are in those we admire we tend to gloss over them or not mention them at all.


Is it because in those we admire that we think admission of contradiction, of irresponsibility, or of sin, will somehow lessen the person or the contribution of the person? Granted, there are times when a person’s walk reveals that his talk is a lie; and if that is the case it is best if we see it for what it is. But there are other times when a person’s walk is an affirmation that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that we find forgiveness in Christ; this is not to excuse the problems with the walk, but perhaps it does provide us with a Biblical perspective.

Suppose the Apostle Peter were viewed by the Early Church through the lens of his denial of Christ and his hypocrisy at Antioch? Suppose his denial and his hypocrisy constituted a Scarlet Letter? Suppose when Peter showed up in a town to teach that people said, “Don’t bother to hear him, he denied Christ and later he denied his Gentile brothers at Antioch”? Certainly both were sin – oops, there’s that word s-i-n; yes, we all do it at last check.

Could it be that when we realize that we have no righteousness of our own and that Christ and Christ alone is our righteousness that we are more able to bear with one another’s faults, contradictions, and yes…even sin? Could it also be that when we insist on making those we admire and appreciate icons that our identification with the icons becomes such that any threat to them becomes a threat to us and our own sense of self-righteousness?

I am pondering these things because Dorothy L. Sayers wasn’t perfect – that’s a nice way of saying that she had contradictions – which in turn is a nice way of saying that she sinned; but you see, that’s the thing, I’ve sinned (and will again), you’ve likely sinned (charitable am I not?), and the next person you speak to will have sinned. While I don’t for one minute view the Christian’s identity as that of a sinner, for we are indeed saints, one of the reasons I’m looking forward to seeing the face of God is that I know the pollution of sin will be no more on that glorious Day.

C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams did things after they became Christians that are questionable, but they mostly did things I very much admire and benefit from; Dorothy L. Sayers’s relationship with her son (if it can be called a relationship) is something I do not understand nor can I begin to excuse it; but I have no doubt it was painful to her – though again on the face of it, based on my poor judgment, inexcusable. But it isn’t the contributions of Lewis and Williams and Sayers that I tend to view, it is who they were. Now Lewis and Sayers might not care for that statement, for they both thought that the writer and the writer’s work should be separate, but I’m not sure either was consistent on that point.

Are we so insecure in Christ’s forgiveness that we cannot look at another person’s life, including that person’s sin, without feeling threatened? Must we be judgmental out of self-righteousness, or must we defend the indefensible, in order to maintain a decorum of protective self-righteousness?

As I said, I’m pondering these things, realizing how all too often I fall short in my charity towards others and forgetting God’s mercies in my own life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John 5:17ff: VIII

Coming to the third of Jesus’ Truly, truly (Amen, amen) sayings of John Chapter 5:

Truly, truly, I say to you,

an hour is coming

and now is,

     when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,

                         and those who hear will live.

     For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so

 He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and

He gave Him authority to execute judgment,

               because He is the Son of Man.

    Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which

                 all who are in the tombs will hear His voice,

                                                       and will come forth;

             those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life,

             those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

Jesus speaks of two hours, two seasons; the first hour is coming and now is; the second is an hour is coming. In the first those who are dead and hear the voice of the Son will live; in the second all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and all will come forth from the tombs, but not with the same result; some will participate in a resurrection of life while others will be in a resurrection of judgment.

The first hour, that which is coming and now is, inaugurates the second hour, that hour which is coming. Jesus spoke of the first hour in the second Truly, truly statement:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

We are all born dead (Ephesians 2:1). Those who have been born dead and who hear not just the words of the Son, but who hear the voice of the Son, and as a result of hearing that voice believe in Him, pass from death into life; those who hear will live.

In attempting to differentiate between simply hearing words and hearing the voice behind the words let’s consider a statement from Paul in Acts 13:26 – 27:

Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the voices of the prophets which are read very Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him.

Passages from the prophets were read every Sabbath; every Sabbath the people of Jerusalem and their rulers heard the words of the prophets, but they did not hear the voices of the prophets or they would not have executed Jesus Christ. During the life of Jesus Christ on this planet, during the season in which God walked this earth and spoke; while all in His audiences audibly  heard His words; not all heard His voice. Those who heard His voice and believed in Him passed from death into life.

It has been this way for the past 2,000 years; those who hear His voice, who hear more than just words, and believe in Him pass from death into life; this is the hour that is coming and now is. Passing from death to life is now, eternal life is now, life in Christ is now; it is a now with an ever unfolding future. This passing from death to life is consummated in that hour that is coming, as Paul writes:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our body, Romans 8:22 -23.

Dorothy L. Sayers – Her Birthday and My Musings: II

The diversity of literary and creative output of Sayers reminds me of C.S. Lewis. Sayers wrote mysteries, plays for theatre, plays for radio, theological monographs and treatises, and worked in the classics – most notably in Dante. She engaged her culture; popular culture, literary culture, and academic culture; with a passion and “edge” that many people found uncomfortable – perhaps because she was a woman and women were not expected to act like that, to have that edge. While Lewis does not strike me as having an overt “edge”, his academic and literary understated “edge” was nevertheless there, sometimes breaking through in pointing out the absurdity of current thinking (see the Abolition of Man…I think his overt edge tends to show itself more in his articles and essays). Lewis, as Sayers, was steadfast and unmovable in not being swayed by economic, political, or other pragmatic considerations; hence his long tenure at Oxford without receiving a professorship – he wouldn’t dance to the popular tune and many of his colleagues found that offensive.

In trying to describe Sayers to my wife recently I said, “I think she had a lot in common with Joy Davidman Lewis. They could be blunt, they were intellectual, and they weren’t intimidated in a man’s world.” They were also, I could have added, somewhat eccentric vis-à-vis societal expectations.

Joy Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers also knew relational heartache with men; however Joy, unlike Dorothy, was blessed in her last season of life with a husband, C.S. Lewis, who loved her deeply and cared for her tenderly; whereas Sayers lived in a marriage with shattered hopes and trust.

To be continued…

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dorothy L. Sayers – Her Birthday and My Musings

Today, June 13, is the birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers, she was born in Oxford, England in 1893. She died on December 17, 1957. (Why did Sayers and Lewis and Williams go and die so young? Is this what writing does to one? Granted, 64 might not seem young to you, but it is increasingly young to me).

I just finished a biography of Sayers by Janet Hitchman, Such a Strange Lady. If you want a Sayers biography and haven’t read Barbara Reynolds’s, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, read Reynolds first. Reynolds is a scholar who not only knew Sayers, she also completed Sayers’s work on Dante which was cut short by her death. Hitchman, on the other hand, reveals her lack of research throughout the book, often substituting her conjectures for substance. Hitchman wants us to know that her offering is an “introduction” to Sayers as if that gives her a pass on accuracy, she also must think she deserves a pass when she points out that she received no cooperation from the Sayers Estate in terms of access to letters and papers – sorry Ms. Hitchman, no cigar.

In one sense the fact that Hitchman’s work doesn’t have an index speaks volumes – how does one index inaccuracies and conjectures? (Though I admit biographers and historians have done it more than once). To me an index in a biography or history indicates order and attention to detail, as do footnotes or endnotes.

Here’s a sample of Hitchman, she is writing about Sayers’s correspondence with C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams:

“Dorothy corresponded with both of them, though these letters have not yet come to light, and they formed themselves into a kind of loosely knit club, referring to themselves as the Inklings because they thought they each had a glimpse of the meaning of God.” page 152.

If Hitchman is saying that Sayers was part of the Inklings she is wrong (I am confused by Hitchman’s writing here). Humphrey Carpenter in his book, The Inklings, quotes Lewis as saying that he didn’t think Sayers knew about the informal club’s existence. Furthermore, the Inklings was a literary club; its beginnings were literary and its continued life was literary – of course it contained wonderful Christian writers such as Lewis and Tolkien, and I think it's fair to say that Lewis became the hub of the wheel.

To be continued…

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John 5:17ff : VII

Continuing with the second Truly, truly statement of John Chapter Five:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and
believes Him who sent Me,
            has eternal life, and
           does not come into judgment, but
                 has passed out of death
                                                into life.
John 3:18: He who believes in Him [Jesus] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…

Romans 8:1: Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

(Please read these verses in context).

Those who have believed in Jesus Christ, believed in the Biblical sense of trusting in Him, surrendering to Him, giving their hearts and minds to Him – the facets of faith and belief can be expressed in a number of terms just as the process and facets of marriage can be described a number of ways – do not come into judgment; end of story with respect to being grouped in the judgment of those who have rejected God in Christ, who have rejected God’s revelation of Himself. 

The failure of Christians to believe these words of Jesus, and the failure of many pastors to preach this word of Jesus, leads to debilitated and insecure Christians; never certain of their relationship with God, never sure of their eternal future, and therefore of necessity self-focused, and consequently not having the abandon to give their lives to others. The failure to believe these words of Jesus leads to legalism, for men are ever trying to attain security with God via their own works rather than the word and work of Jesus Christ. 

Some accuse those who hold to the surety of the word and work of Christ of teaching that a person can do anything he pleases; this is rubbish. A fair reading of the New Testament shows that much that was written was written to hold Christians accountable; and specific passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:10 – 23 demonstrate that as excruciating as standing before the judgment seat of Christ may be (see 2 Corinthians 5:10) that we can trust the word of Jesus Christ that we have not come into judgment but have passed out of death into life. 

The “life” that Jesus speaks of is no less than Himself. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”John 14:6. “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life n Himself;” John 5:26. “I am that bread of life…” John 6:48.

Passing into “life” is passing into Jesus Christ, hence Paul’s much-used phrase, in Christ. We are in Christ; we live in Christ, we breathe in Christ, we think in Christ, we feel in Christ, our will functions in Christ. We pass from the sphere of death into the biosphere of Christ. 

To view eternal life as something separate from Christ misses the mark, eternal life is the life of Christ given to the person who hears His word and believes in Him. Eternal life is not a “force” nor a commodity or a spiritual plane nor a stage of enlightenment; eternal life is Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John Chapter 11, “I am the resurrection and the life…”

This is about God in Christ. It is about the God of Sinai being born in Bethlehem, growing to manhood, and proclaiming Himself to us, revealing Himself to us, in order that we might hear and believe in Him. God says to us,"He who believes Me, he who comes to Me; the man or woman, girl or boy, who trusts in Me passes from death into Me, and hence into life – and does not come into judgment."

God says, “Look around you and see death, see sickness, see sorrow, see pain. But also see hope and joy and love and compassion. Where do the good and hopeful things come from? They come from Me. But you cannot escape sin and you cannot escape the death that comes through sin – except you come to Me – and I will bring you out of death and into life, into Myself – that is why I’ve come…to bring you home to Me.”

John the Gospel writer tells us what we ought to do once we’ve come to know Jesus; in 1:35 – 51, the last movement of his first chapter, John lays the framework for our lives, for in this passage we see one person after another finding another person and pointing the person to Jesus, always to Jesus. John the Baptist points others to Jesus, Andrew brings Peter to Jesus, Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus – and John the Apostle wrote the Gospel to bring us to Jesus. 

When we realize that God of very God proclaims that “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life,” perhaps we’ll realize how great our salvation is and how great the Good News is that we have to share with others.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

John 5:17ff : VI

Here is the second Truly, truly statement of John Chapter Five:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and
believes Him who sent Me,
            has eternal life, and
           does not come into judgment, but
                 has passed out of death
                                                into life.
Just as Yahweh proclaimed His name to Moses (Exodus 33:17 – 34:7), that is, just as Yahweh proclaimed who He is, so Jesus Christ proclaims who He is; God of very God. While Moses could not see the face of God on Sinai (Exodus 33:20), in the Incarnation we behold the face of God in Jesus Christ. The Gospel writer sets the stage for this understanding with the words, No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him, John 1:18. Since 1:18 is the conclusion of John’s Introduction, it sets the trajectory for what follows in the Gospel narrative, and what follows is God descending from the heavens, descending from Sinai (if you will) and revealing Himself to mankind.

He who hears My word - - - - -  and - - - - -  believes Him who sent Me

There is an identity of hearing and believing in the Son and the Father. To hear the Word of the Son is to hear the Word of the Father; to believe in the Father is to believe in the Son; the two are not only interchangeable, they are inseparable, indivisible.

Do we realize that it is the word of the Son that people need to hear and believe in to pass from death to life? That is, when we preach on Sundays and witness on Mondays do we strive to present the word of Jesus? Do we see ourselves on the stage of eternity? Are we conscious that the word of Jesus has the power to draw men and women to Him, as opposed to our own word? If I want to simply make someone’s day a little better or brighter I might say any number of kind things, but if I want to influence someone for eternity it had better be the word of Jesus that I speak and live.

The “word” of Jesus is more than a recitation of the “words” that Jesus spoke, it is living in Jesus Christ and having Christ as our source of life, our center of gravity, our all in all. It is living out of Jesus Christ the way that Jesus Christ lives out of the Father. The Gospel is not a collection of words by which we argue with people or batter people; the Gospel is not a message of morals and ethics; the Gospel is a Person and the word of the Gospel flows from that Person and has that Person, Jesus Christ, as its unwavering focal point.

Monday, June 6, 2011

John 5:17ff: V

Let’s consider the three Truly, truly statements of Jesus in John Chapter Five; remembering that when Jesus Christ says Truly, truly that it is the equivalent of Yahweh’s pronouncement in the Law and the Prophets, Thus says the LORD. Here is the first statement:

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
                   the Son can do nothing of Himself,
                      unless it is something He sees the Father doing;
                         for whatever the Father does,
                            these things the Son also does in like manner

The actions of the Father and Son are the same because the nature and essence of the Father and Son are the same. Whatever the Father does the Son does in like manner. The Son does not imitate the Father; that is, this is not an imitation of action in the sense of copying the action of another; this is the same action flowing from the same nature. 

If whatever the Father does the Son does, and if the Son can only do what He sees the Father doing; then the Son sees the Father at all times; once again, this speaks to the oneness of God in the mystery of the Trinity. 

For the Father loves the Son, and
                shows Him all things that He Himself is doing;
and the Father will show Him greater works than these,
                     so that you will marvel.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
      even so the Son also gives life to whom He wills. 

The beginning of the Gospel makes clear that the Word was God. There is no qualification to the statement and the Word was God; that is, the author is not saying that the Word was God in this sense or that sense – there is no qualifying sense in which the Word was God – the Word was God is an unqualified statement of fact.  It is also clear that all things were made through Him [the Word] and without Him was not anything made that was made. Hence, the Word is Creator; and in light of John 5:17ff this should not surprise us for all that the Father does the Son does. 

The introduction in Chapter One provides the lens through which to read the Gospel; it is the framework in which to view the relational Trinitarian language of the Gospel. The Father loves the Son and shows Him all things, this is relational language, as is the statement below that the Father has given all judgment to the Son. The Scriptures contain the language of subordination of function in which we see the Son being subject to the Father, but they do not contain the language of subordination of nature with respect to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

The Scriptures also contain relational language of love within the Trinity, as we see in this passage, the Father loves the Son. To say that the Trinity is a mystery in the sense of being able to perceive and understand God in His fullness is but to acknowledge that God is God and that we are His creatures. Yes, even as His sons and daughters, even as those invited into the koinonia of the Trinity, even as bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh…we are still but children on our best days. 

Jesus, in proclaiming His nature and identity says that the Son gives life to whom He wills. Jesus is God, the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us and this is that Word proclaiming that He gives life to whom He wills, this Truly, truly statement is truly from God.

   For not even the Father judges anyone, but
                 He has given all judgment to the Son,
                        so that all will honor the Son even as
                                     they honor the Father. 

He who does not honor the Son does not
honor the Father who sent Him.

Jesus not only proclaims that He gives life to whom He wills, but He follows that statement with the proclamation that the Father has given Him all judgment. Consider what Jesus Christ has just said in this Truly, truly statement:

       Everything God the Father does He does.
       He, Jesus, gives life to whom He will. That is, He is the Giver of life.               He, Jesus, has been given all judgment. That is, He is the Judge of the people of the earth.           
       Lastly, the person who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father.

Jesus has just proclaimed His Divinity in no uncertain terms and His hearers well knew it.

In our syncretistic age many professing Christians would like to excise the statement that, He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. We would often like to mitigate these unequivocal statements of Jesus Christ about Himself. We would like to apologize for unambiguous statements such as, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.

Perhaps we are not convinced that Jesus is God? Perhaps He is not God in our own lives…not really? Perhaps if we saw Jesus Christ as God of very God we would be more forthright in our declaration of who He is and that we would realize that He is not one option among many?

God appeared on Mount Sinai in concealed form and Moses was not permitted to see His face; Jesus Christ, God of very God, has appeared on this planet; He has not concealed Himself, He has been clear about Who He is and His nature; the Exodus motif is played out once again from John Chapter One through Chapter 21; a Deliverer, a Salvation, the building of a Tabernacle, and God indwelling His Tabernacle. But this time, in the Gospel of John, God has not appeared in a cloud on a mountain or even as a cloud in a Tabernacle, He has appeared in Person first…and then in His true Tabernacle…His people.

Friday, June 3, 2011

John 5:17ff: IV

In verses 18, 24 and 25 Jesus says, “Amen, amen”, or “Verily, verily”, or as the NIV so weakly puts it, “I tell you the truth”. The following are Leon Morris’s comments on the expression in his treatment of John 1:51:

            Amen…is the transliteration of an Aramaic or Hebrew word, the participle of the verb that means “to confirm”; it was used to indicate one’s assent. For example, it was (and still is) the response of the congregation to a prayer voiced by the one who leads the worship; it was the way the people made it their own (1Cor. 14:16). Very occasionally it was the conclusion to one’s own prayer…But this use is rare [in ancient times]. Characteristically the word is one’s assent to word uttered by somebody else. In the Gospels it is used only by Jesus, and always as a prefix to significant statements. Presumably this is to mark them out as solemn and true and important. The use of Amen to introduce one’s own words appears to be Jesus’ own, no real Jewish parallel being adduced…Jesus identifies himself with the words and also with the God to whom he appeals. In the Synoptic Gospels the word always occurs singly, whereas in John it is invariably doubled.

Morris’s footnotes are instructive:

            Schlier holds that in amen used in this way “we have the whole of Christology in nuce [in a nutshell]. The one who accepts His word as true and certain is also the one who acknowledges and affirms it in his own life and thus causes it, as fulfilled by him, to become a demand to others.” … G.E. Ladd says, “Jesus used the expression as the equivalent of an oath, paralleling the Old Testament expression, ‘As I live, saith the Lord.’ Jesus’ usage is without analogy because in his person and word the Kingdom of God manifested its presence and authority.” E. Kasemann comments, “it signifies an extreme and immediate certainty…”

I share the above as a prelude to considering the teachings introduced by Amen, amen. We’ve previously touched on the Son can do nothing of His own accord, (verse 19); echoed in verse 30, I can do nothing on my own. What must the significance of this be that it was introduced in verse 19 with the words, Amen, amen?

Is this fellowship with the Father something that only Jesus experiences? Or, is this something we are all called to when we come to the Father through Him? If the Son lives this way, does He not call His brothers and sisters to join Him in such relationship with Our Father? If the Head of the Body lives this way, should not the Body live this way?

If the Firstborn among many brethren does nothing of His own accord, are those He has redeemed meant to live life independently of the Father, venturing out on their own with their agendas firmly established? If action independent from God brought sin and death into the world, do we seriously believe that action independent from God can ever bring any good thing, or life-giving thing, into the life of anyone – regardless of how noble or useful or common sensical it may appear?

Our weaknesses are seldom our enemies; the same cannot be said of our strengths.

Whatever our sphere of life, whatever our stage of life; our kind Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus want to teach us to drink from their water of Life, to abide in the Vine; in the certain knowledge that outside of Christ we can bear no fruit and that in Christ we will bear fruit in due season and that our leaf shall not wither, but that whatever we do will prosper. As the Son lives by the Father; we are to live by the Son. (Galatians 2:20).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

C. S. Lewis to Carl Henry

A couple of months ago I read the following letter from C.S. Lewis to Carl Henry, the founder of Christianity Today magazine. Mr. Henry wrote Lewis asking if Lewis would contribute some articles to CT. Here is Lewis's reply, dated September 9, 1955:

Dear Doctor Henry, Thank you for your letter of Sept 12th. I wish your project heartily well but can't write you articles. My thought and talent (such as they are) now flow in different, thought I think not less Christian, channels, and I do not think I am at all likely to write more directly theological pieces. The last work of that sort which I attempted had to be abandoned. If I am now good for anything it is for catching the reader unawares - thro' fiction and symbol. I have done what I could in the way of frontal attacks, but I now feel quite sure those days are over. With many thanks. Yours sincerely, C.S. Lewis

I have friends who resonate with the didactic teachings of Lewis and, I think for the most part, are uncomfortable with his stories. His stories are "fiction" while his directly theological pieces are non-fiction - this is their unspoken position. While they will use Lewis's book Mere Christianity  for outreach and discipleship, they would not think of using Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or Till We Have Faces in such a fashion.  An irony is that Lewis came to Christ not so much through direct theological argument, but rather through "story" and "myth".

Lewis, Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, Hugo Dyson, and others of Lewis's circle valued the power of story. Certainly Scripture provides us with both didactic teaching and story. The bookends of Scripture, Genesis and Revelation, are replete with story, powerful narrative that speaks to us in an ocean of uncertainty. When we take Revelation and attempt to turn its visions and images into didactic presentations we caricature the Word which was given to John and suck the wind from its sails. The breath of the Holy Spirit is reduced to reconstituted potatoes.

This is not a case of having to choose either story or didactic teaching for one's life, it is a case of submitting to the text and approaching the Bible naturally, as an original audience would have naturally read it and as the human authors naturally wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Now had I been a contemporary of Lewis's in a certain stage of my life, I'm certain I would have thought Lewis's reply to Henry a mistake; why waste a great mind and talent on writing story when he could be reaching thousands in an Evangelical journal? 

The images of Narnia are likely to remain with folks long after they have forgotten what they read in The Problem of Pain, and the Gospel accounts of Christ on the Cross are more likely to remain with a person than Paul's exposition of forgiveness in Romans - unless that exposition is placed in the context of narrative; unless it is derived from the Gospel; which of course it was when it was written. 

As Lewis argues in The Abolition of Man, we are becoming (have become!) men without chests, men and women without hearts, we have become mechanistic creatures - and Biblical story and narrative have the power to awaken the slumbering heart, by-passing the programmed mind and speaking to the essence of who we are - men and women created in the image of a holy God, enslaved by deceit, blinded by sin, tricked into believing we are the products of time plus matter plus chance. 

I don't recall a hymn about singing the great doctrines of the faith in Heaven (though I'm sure someone will bring one to my attention), but someone did write a hymn titled I Love to Tell the Story, with the words, t'will be my theme in glory, to tell the old old story of Jesus and His love. The worship and praises in the heavens portrayed in Revelation center around the story of the Lamb - why? Because we are a part of that story.

I love the didactic passages in Scripture, and I love to think and teach didactically; but I've also learned the power of story, and I've learned that unless I and my brothers and sisters see ourselves as participants in God's Story that we are prone to intellectualize the Gospel and the Scriptures, reducing the Gospel to argument and reasoning; thereby not only missing the texture of the Bible, but also missing an avenue into the hearts of those around us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I’ve been rereading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and just finished Perelandra. Weston’s (the Un-man’s) dialogue with the Lady was the centerpiece of the book for me. It challenged my heart and my devotion to Christ, and it also dovetails with my recent meditation in John Chapter Five in that the Un-man seeks to seduce the Lady to think and act independently of Maledil (God). In John Chapter Five Christ’s identity in the Father is central, in Perelandra the Lady’s identity in Maledil is central; though there is a decided contrast in maturity with Jesus in John Five and the Lady in Perelandra.

In Perelandra the Lady (the Eve figure) and the King (her husband, the Adam figure) have been forbidden by Maledil to live on the Fixed Island. The Un-man makes a prolonged attempt to entice the Lady by argument to disobey Maledil for the good of her race and for the good of Maledil. The argument is not simply didactic, it also includes narrative – the Un-man wants to show the Lady how great she can be if she will but disobey Maledil’s command. Here is a quotation from early in the dialogue, the Lady is speaking to the Un-man:

It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger,” she answered, “but from this one story that you have put into my head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make the story about living on the Fixed Island I do not know how to make it about Maledil. For if I make it that He has changed His command, that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also, I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things.

Oh how her words challenge me! To envision an action against the Word of our Lord Jesus is indeed to paint a picture of the sky being all black and the water undrinkable and the air toxic – oh that we would see that there is no pleasure to be found in trying to make these things.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ,” 2 Corinthians 11:3.

The Un-man assaulted the mind of the Lady and endeavored to introduce her to the knowledge of evil through didactic argument and narrative; he attempted to introduce pictures to her mind that, if followed, if she entered the pictorial narrative, would lead to her disobedience. But her simplicity and her purity of devotion to Maledil sustained her in her time of trial. (Yes, Ransom played his part too!)

The narrative in Revelation, the praises of eternity, center on the Lamb of God, of the Father’s love for us expressed through Jesus Christ. That is the narrative that matters, that is the narrative that we are to make our own. Is it any wonder that Paul writes concerning our polluted minds…And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is god and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12:2.

The Lady could not conceive without recoil of an action contrary to the will and word of God; or that that might be the case with us.